My hotel in Sounkyo Onsen, Northern Lodge is pretty big, alpine looking chalet, and one of the few in town that stays open all year but when I arrived it seemed deserted and I wondered around in the dark for a bit before I found the landlady cleaning a room upstairs. With the emptiness, the pine forest and the snow, it weirdly reminds me of the hotel from “The Shining”, but thankfully the similarities ended there.
I was shown to a large and inviting Japanese style room with tatami mat floors, and small table and tea set and a sitting area with wicker armchairs. From my bedroom window I can see over the river that runs through the middle of town, complete with small pedestrian suspension bridge. As I arrived it started snowing even more heavily and soon the whole gorge totally disappeared behind a wall of whiteness.
The Northern Lodge has its own onsen or hot spring baths, so I changed into my complimentary yukata and went to investigate. The main bath has a large window beside it, behind a high fence that overlooks a small garden of trees, which is covered in deep snow. It’s very snug and relaxing to be floating in very warm water watching the snow fall and spiral in the near blizzard that we had that night. Just the perfect remedy when you have been lugging bags on and off trains all day or hiking snow-filled gorges.
I was instructed to come down to the restaurant for 7 pm, and having not eaten since 10 am I was starving, which was good as I was presented with a feast! I had a selection of 3 different cold dishes - a mystery vegetable salad, some potted mushrooms and some picked greens from the sea; a shredded lettuce salad with prawns and chilli and lime dressing; half a Hokkaido crab; a sashimi plate which was from a tiny fish which had been cut into a bowl to hold the pieces of itself; some amazing grilled steak pieces; a tub of rice and a woodland mushroom broth soup in a little casserole over a tea light. I was also given a glass of sherry, a piece of raspberry mousse and sponge cake and a cup of Japanese red tea to finish. Everything was presented with a flourish by a very elegant, very tall man with long, thin hands and long black hair. Think Samurai Prince but with an apron and no sword. I was very proud of myself for eating every last bit of it and finding it all, even the mystery vegetables, amazingly tasty, and without catapulting a chunk of crab across the room as I tried to get it out of its shell.
The following day returning after hiking through the gorge, Mr Elegant was deftly clearing the new snow from the car park in a mini-JCB excavator which was awesome and proves that delicately-handed master sushi chefs can still drive construction vehicles.
That night’s dinner was another spread of multiple dishes which included a sashimi selection of sweet prawn, salmon, scallop and mackerel; some squid tentacle sashimi with fresh wasabi; fresh bamboo and pork with sweet vinegar dip, a piece of fish with a lot of roe and sweet soy dip, a whole crab of a different kind (this one was much chunkier and hairy) and a piece of beef and mushrooms cooked on a thick slice of onion over a tea light.
A great hotel with spectacular views and food to match.